Wednesday, September 02, 2020

"The Real Question"

“Law and order” without the rule of law is neither “law” nor “order.” And any news organization that uncritically describes President Trump’s reelection campaign as premised on “law and order” appeals, without placing his concerted efforts to destroy the rule of law in America front and center alongside them, is helping to drain those words of all meaning.

Well, to be honest, that phrase has never had another meaning than the "order" the speaker wants to see, imposed by law (i.e., government power) on the "disorderly," that is, people the speaker disapproves of.

Like this:

“Let’s be clear, the people that are protesting now are not Trump supporters — they are Joe Biden supporters,” Slupe said, according to CNN correspondent D.J. Judd. “They are ruining America… they are not peaceful demonstrators… peaceful means quiet.”

"Law and order" is a euphemism for that kind of blunt intolerance of others.  It sounds objective and based in the needs of society, when its only real appeal is to "us" against "them."  It's not even a valid idea.  Law does not impose order; ideally, it enacts justice as society understands it.  Order is another matter entirely.  Order is a social function.  When law was effectively obliterated in New Orleans during Katrina, New Orleans didn't turn apocalyptic.  The "law and order" crowd were the police officers standing on bridges refusing to allow people to leave the city.  Simple human decency was overridden by the principle that only law guarantees order, and lawlessness is a contagion which must be kept out of the body politic at all costs.

Likewise in Houston after Hurricane Ike, when major parts of the city were without power for weeks (Houston is basically a forest; running power lines through forests is not, it turns out, such a good idea), or Hurricane Harvey when streets and houses were flooded and left abandoned.  Crime didn't run rampant when the streets drained clear and houses were uninhabitable.  The apocalypse of social collapse didn't occur either time.  Why not?  Law was barely capable of imposing order.

But then, law is always incapable of imposing order.  I've seen a police officer in my neighborhood exactly twice in almost 20 years here.  Both times they were called out for specific reasons, none of them involving violence and lawlessness and a complete breakdown of civil order.  My neighborhood is ethnically diverse and economically diverse, too.  We all get along just fine.  When the new stores opened near us (I've told this story before, too), they had to put up cameras in the parking lot, and make a great display of "security" to reassure the wealthy living just the other side of the freeway that it was safe to shop on my side of the freeway.  I know of more deaths and robberies in those neighborhoods in 20 years than in mine.  Law doesn't impose order; society does.  Order breaks down in individuals (one shooting involved a man with distinct mental/emotional issues), but rarely in societies.  One reason the Nazis so successfully herded people into cattle cars (monstrous practice) was that social order refused to break under the most onerous of conditions.*

And yet we expect it to collapse on a moment's notice here in the "land of the free and home of the brave."  Well, we are free, and we are brave; but they shouldn't be free, and their anger makes us afraid.  Isn't that what "law and order" is for?  To protect our "order" from them?
Same as it ever was.

I was going to leave this there, but a few days after I wrote that, I found this.  The entire article is worth reading, but the concluding paragraph fits in nicely right here:

But the real question here is not which candidate is to blame for the violence breaking out. It’s about what kind of society we are to be—about how you achieve true “law and order” for everyone. Things are spiraling right now because “law and order” has been defined for far too long as law and order for white people, and because our political system constantly bends over backward to mollify white people at Black peoples’ expense. If we want real peace in this country, order has to come from justice, not from racist oppression—even if that makes the Andrew Sullivans of the world freak out.
I would like to point out that justice is not "just us" (sorry, it's a weak pun, but a serious insight), and we need to consider that point carefully.  But that takes me into discussions of law and Christianity (and not necessarily Mosaic law, either), which will have to come up another time.
*the alternative would have been mass slaughter on the streets.  I do not mean to demean the victims of the Holocaust, I mean only to point out the Nazis traded on civil order in order to perpetrate their crimes against humanity.  They avoided complete social breakdown by using social order to their evil ends.  It was, quite literally, their version of "law and order."

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